Allegrini 2024

From Pompeii a journey through the history of wine, to understand the present and look to the future

A “Lectio Magistralis” by Luigi Moio, president OIV-Organizzazione Internazionale della Vigna e del Vino, starting point for a “Convivium” of scholars

“To understand the present well, we need to know the past and understand well the reasons for the changes. This is perhaps the best way to inspire and orient ourselves in the future. We need to reconstruct the events that have led over the millennia to modern wine, in which the search for a close link with places of origin has led to the birth of a true olfactory and gustatory aesthetics of wine, and then provide a logical vision of the oenology of the future. A future must be analyzed in the light of the current world scenario strongly conditioned by the unavoidable strategies of sustainable development due to climate change, the considerable apprehensions of respect and custodianship of the environment, and the pressing demand for transparency safety and wholesomeness of wine from consumers”. This was the “Lectio Magistralis” of Luigi Moio, president of the OIV-International Organization of Vine and Wine, professor of Enology at the Federico II University of Naples and producer, in the “Convivium” of scholars - from Attilio Scienza, among the world’s top experts on viticulture to the archaeologist and anthropologist David Lordkipanidze - in recent days, in the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, dedicated to the “Antiquity of life and wine”, from Georgia, the “cradle” of world viticulture, to Campania, from where wine production spread to the then known world, through 8,000 years of history, and thus established a “twinning”.
“The decorations in Ancient Egyptian tombs, those from the Roman period and all the representations of the grape harvest over the millennia show that basically the way of making wine has never changed”, Moio recalled, “as it was originally perceived as a product that had to have a few essential characteristics among which the most important was shelf life. It was from the 19th century onward that a major impetus was given to the improvement of the entire wine industry. Wine proved to be a formidable natural model of study for the understanding of fundamental biochemical phenomena such as alcoholic fermentation, giving in 1789 a fundamental contribution to Lavoisier in understanding the principle of conservation of mass and later in 1866 to Pasteur in disproving the theory of spontaneous generation, demonstrating that alcoholic fermentation was a phenomenon related to life as it was conducted by yeasts. Thus a real “science of wine” was developed to improve its production. Humans have always sought to improve its sensory characteristics, until the present day when wine has become a true cultural and emotional commodity, the result of controlling profound knowledge of natural biological and biochemical phenomena. All this has made it possible to obtain wines with sensory characteristics directly related to grape varieties and places of origin. Sensory diversity has never been more evident than in recent decades, giving an infinity of wines expressive of their places of production. But climate change risks weakening the sensory diversity of wines and its close connection with the concept of “terroir”, as well as negatively affecting the wine’s longevity and aromatic stability. It is essential to reconsider a primary agronomic principle that has perhaps been somewhat neglected in recent years: encouraging perfect adaptation between the genotype and the environment, cultivating the plant that is best adapted to the soil and climate context in which it operates. With the perfect attunement of a specific vine cultivar to the pedoclimatic environment in which it grows, the chance that the clusters will have all the parameters in balance is much higher. Consequently, the wine that will be obtained, in addition to being more sustainable, will be harmonious in all its components and its balance will be mainly due to the perfect combination of plant soil and climate that together with man form the basis of the concept of “terroir”, otherwise man has to intervene much more to recompose that balance. In that case, it is not possible to create the conditions that within the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine) I like to call “light oenology”, that is, requiring minimal human intervention, and consequently current with respect to environmental and consumer health issues. In addition to the production of more “sustainable” wines, the other key critical issues involving the wine supply chain in the coming years are organic approaches with the reduction of synthetic chemicals, environmentally friendly precision agronomic strategies, genetic improvement programs to increase plant resistance to pathogen pressure, the principles behind so-called living soils, and finally labeling toward the pressing consumer demand for transparency safety and wholesomeness of wine”.
“Science, as well as art, is a key tool for disseminating values and for diplomacy, and it can be a key mechanism for engaging in broader discussions such as a country’s national identity”, said archaeologist and anthropologist David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi. “Seeking identity is a natural evolutionary process, and its formation is influenced by geographic, political, cultural, religious, anthropological and technological factors. The national identity of Georgians is closely linked to the cult of wine, which has a long and interrupted history in the region dating back 8,000 years. Using archaeological discoveries for nationalistic purposes, however, is a common practice and many countries claim to be the “cradle”, and this sometimes manifests itself as a form of competition. The varieties and forms of cultivated plants that originated in the Caucasus, however, have shown that the area was indeed an ancient center for the domestication and diversification of food plant species. We should move away from contentions about who is the “first winemaker” and move toward multidisciplinary research on the history of wine and other cultivated foods. The beginning of agriculture is a key period in human history and offers a unique opportunity for researchers to develop high-level international interdisciplinary collaboration. This was our intention in 2014 when the National Museum of Georgia and I took the scientific lead of an international multidisciplinary project on researching Georgian grape and wine culture under the supervision of the Georgia Wine Association, the National Wine Agency. The theory that Georgia is the cradle of wine had already appeared in the international literature in the 1989 book “The Story Of Wayne” by famous writer Hugh Johnson 1989, and reiterated by Professor Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania in “Ancient Wine”. Our project involved Georgian scientists and researchers from the Universities of Pennsylvania, Montpellier, Milan, Copenhagen, Toronto, the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) and the National Institute for agricultural Research - Montpellier Center (Inra), and its results confirmed that the tribes inhabiting this area were producing wine as early as 8,000 years ago, thanks to the ancient archaeological finds and archaeo botanical data. The global scientific community recognizes that the oldest wine-making indications have been discovered on what is now the territory of Georgia, from where the practices spread throughout the world with significant impact on agriculture, human culture, biology, medicine and the development of civilizations. The large vessels known as qvevri are still used to make wine in Georgia today, and this is a strong indication of how the region’s wine culture has deep historical roots and solid continuity”.
An initial convergence between Georgian and Italian viticulture, explained Attilio Scienza, one of the world’s leading experts on viticulture and a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Milan, “is human in nature: during the famous fourth migration that brought most grape varieties from the East to the West, and that coincides with the historic deluge, a great many Caucasians arrived in Italy, and the DNA of the populations of an important area of southern Italy manifested this presence of Caucasian sequences still present. They came with what they had in terms of varieties and customs, and there are some that are very obvious: the first one is a container that is used as a basket to pick grapes in the Asprinio areas that is identical to the one used on the Black Sea, so much so that they seem to be made by the same hand. Another important item is about the wooden tub used for crushing with the feet, which is called navi and is still in use in Georgia, and in Italy and Campania it is called nave, it is made in the same way and is also still there. Then there is the amphora: there is a cellar in Pompeii with buried amphorae with lids that are exactly the same as those in a Georgian cellar, from the size to the distance between them and the way they are covered. The sea caves on the island of Ischia, on the other hand, which used to be cellars, are located in a place called Maronti, and in Georgia the cellar is called maroni. But there are also some linguistic substrata in Ischia that are Georgian, with many words in the Ischian dialect that are Caucasian. We have no varietal matches, because we have not found genetic similarities between the grape varieties grown in Campania and the samples from Georgia, because probably in the journey from East to West, all the various selections, crosses and contaminations have substantially changed the molecular profiles of the varieties”.
“Continuing archaeological discoveries renew international interest in the history and culture of vines and wine over the millennia from the Caucasus regions to Pompeii, from Georgia, the “cradle” of the first wine found in amphorae, to Campania and the great network of Mediterranean trade created by the Romans”, Dante Stefano Del Vecchio recalled, CEO MisteryApple, who organized the “Convivio”, shared with the Embassies of Georgia, Greece and Cyprus and with the contribution of the Italian Embassy in Tbilisi - a line of continuity connects the Caucasus and Georgia with Campania with the first rudimentary techniques of vine cultivation, of the first processes that can be defined as winemaking, to Pompeii. It would be the great legacy that came from Greek culture that made wine an element between myth and sacredness and sharing with the Symposium, taken up by the Romans in the Convivio. Represented by Dionysus, wine becomes legendary narrative, opening up a literary world, from tragedy to magic, from war to esotericism and eros. But resuming ancient routes from the Caucasus to Lebanon, from Israel to Anatolia, from Egypt to Cyprus, from Greece to Italy, wine represented an indispensable commodity for peoples until the Romans, when it underwent a strong commercial transformation from large dimensions dominating the trade from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and crossing the Alps. Pompeii represents this ancient social and economic reality linked to wine and made of wisdom and knowledge intertwined with the geopolitics of the Empire. Georgia and Campania are closely connected by wine culture starting with very clear evidence such as the buried amphorae for winemaking that the Romans introduced right in our region and the alberata, the famous vine married with poplar, such as that of Asprinio di Aversa, already present in Georgia. And if these elements emerge from recent archaeological sites, a long race to recover its immense and ancient biodiversity has begun in Georgia today, and as many as 525 grape varieties have been recovered and planted in the state estate, a viticultural landscape completely foreign to the Western grapevine, but of these only a few dozen can give great good results for making excellent wines as shown by studies by the University of Agriculture in Milan and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige. Grape varieties that have shown a particular specificity and how many of them are naturally resistant to certain phytopathologies (powdery mildew and downy mildew). If the interpretation of the past helps us to understand in depth the roots of a plant, it should be remembered and reiterated that it is scientific research, with its ability to innovate, that allows us to face the new challenges of vitiviniculture in order to make adequate and sustainable vineyards and better wines that are an expression not only of the territories, but also of our time, our knowledge and our modernity”.
In this historical reconstruction, Pompeii represents a symbolic place that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. crystallized and consigned forever to the Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and where the marriage of vine and land is evidenced by the precious archaeological finds that document the excellent quality of local wines, known as “emperors’ wines”, and how wine was even then stored in cellars and even labeled. “Today, the environmental regeneration that the Archaeological Park has initiated also addresses the impact of climate change on the cultural and natural heritage of the more than 100 hectares of farmland crowning the archaeological sites, ensuring sustainable land maintenance and forming a garrison against urbanization, land consumption and critical climatic issues, with crops grown exclusively organically and carried out with respect for and up-to-date interpretation of the techniques and cultivation methods of the ancient world”, explains Pompeii Archaeological Park Director Gabriel Zucktriegel, “a key example of this line is the implementation of the partnership for the management of ancient vineyards and the planting of new vineyards for the activation of the Pompeii Agricultural Company’s wine sector. The Pompeian Flora Nursery in the House of Panza in Regio VI, inaugurated in 2001, safeguards rare or endemic species of plant germplasm of ancient varieties with consequent characteristics of greater biosustainability, is configured as an educational center, and emphasizes the man-nature relationship in the ancient world, the utilitarian garden. Pliny the Elder, Columella and other authors of ancient Rome teach us how and what to cultivate. The initiative is therefore aimed at the enhancement and enjoyment of the cultural heritage, with careful attention to the choices of cultivated and reproduced species that not only takes into account the native Vesuvian vegetation, but also scientifically inherent to the plant heritage used 2,000 years, and with the renewed agricultural, livestock, dairy, beekeeping and floriculture management of the Park with the formation of a farm based on precision techniques and agroecology, also fostering sustainable rural tourism of excellence. Last but not least, the renewed management of farmland will allow for an effective improvement in heritage maintenance through more effective and efficient weed control”.
But it is all the ampelographic richness of Campania “the concrete testimony of the centrality of this region in the routes that have crossed from East to West and from South to North the whole known world of vines and wine”, said Tommaso Luongo president of Ais-Associazione Italiana Sommelier Campania - Aglianico and Piedirosso, Falanghina Beneventana and Falanghina Flegrea, Greco and Fiano, and, again, Catalanesca, Caprettone, Coda di Volpe, Sciascinoso, Tintore and Camaiola, Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero, Casavecchia and Asprinio, Pepella, Ripoli and Ginestra: we could go on and on, and each grape variety would bring with it a fascinating story to tell, not a storytelling constructed at a desk, but the irreplaceable piece of a variegated and multicolored mosaic that describes the fifth essence of a territory with unique pedoclimatic conditions that make the Campania Vineyard an open-air laboratory of experimentation on agronomic techniques and different production approaches. The centuries-old vines that have withstood the onslaught of phylloxera with gnarled shoots proudly displaying their wrinkles, the terraces overlooking the sea of the Amalfi Coast, the marvelous green scaffolding of the tree-lined plains of the Aversano countryside, the humerous vine stumps at Piede Franco that crowd the crater edges and shore up the Phlegrean caldera, the rows caressed by sea breezes on the islands of Ischia and Capri, and the pristine green heart of Irpinia and Sannio with expanses of vines as far as the eye can see, or the metropolitan vineyards of Naples, the rows that climb Mount Vesuvius: a viticulture both ancient and modern, ancestral and dynamic, repository of wisdom and bearer of futuristic developments. And the ideal dimension to celebrate the “virtuous twinning” between Campania and Georgia, in an ideal bridge between past, present and future between two strategically and fundamentally important wine-locations without which the wine we know today would not be what it is”.

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